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From e-bikes to recumbents, Portland’s niche bike shops find success

Posted by on July 1st, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Coventry Cycle Works-1
Coventry Cycles has found a comfortable
niche with recumbents.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

With (at least) 69 bike shops in Portland — that’s one for every two square miles, in case you’re keeping track — we’re often asked how they can all survive. The bike shop business isn’t easy; but one way to stand out in the crowd and be successful is to find a niche (or create a new one) and then develop it into a healthy market. Several Portland bike shop owners have done precisely that. And they’ve done it well.

Powered by high-touch marketing and nurtured by Portland’s seemingly bottomless love of interesting bikes, a handful of small-scale entrepreneurs have taken big risks on bike shops that fit both their personal passions and market niches that bigger companies either couldn’t serve or didn’t even know existed.

Here’s a quick take on each of three specialized Portland bike shops whose bets are paying off.

Self-powered sales: Barb and Joel Grover’s Splendid Cycles

Splendid Cycles opening party-2
Barb Grover (grey pants) explains the options to a future cargo bike owner.

Shop: Splendid Cycles.

Location: SE 14th and Belmont.

Specialty: “Totally kick-ass cargo bikes,” both front-loaders and longtails.

Owners’ estimate of the number of similar shops in the country: Zero. Many shops offer cargo bikes, but the Grovers don’t know of any other full-time shop that does nothing else.

Proprietors: Joel and Barb Grover, ages 49 and 52.

Origin story: Both of the Grovers worked their way up inside the biggest local bike shop chain, the Bike Gallery – Joel as a buyer, Barb in marketing. But their developing interest in cargo bikes didn’t jibe with the Bike Gallery’s mainstream audience. “I couldn’t get very far with that whole process because it really depended on a charismatic evangelist out there on the sales floor who really believed in what cargo bikes could do,” says Joel. “I think in order to really make a dent, we had to do that on our own.”

Biographical fact: Thanks to a business that’s now 10 percent wholesale distribution and more than 50 percent mail order of customized cargo bikes, the three-year-old Splendid Cycles has become the leading North American seller of Bullitt brand Danish cargo bikes. In the past, they’ve imported components in 20-foot shipping containers that hold 60 frames each, but lately they’ve been bringing them in six at a time by air freight. Joel picks up each order personally – on his cargo bike.

Shop philosophy: “We don’t want to be giant. We like to be able to offer personal service to our customers. I think if we get too big too soon, then we lose control of certain aspects.”

What’s new: With sales growing rapidly, the Grovers have started to think about approaching other local shops to share working space.

Quote: “We’ll sell over 100 bikes this year; the Bike Gallery would sell about 100 bikes on a busy day. but those are $300 bikes. We’re comfortable letting the general bike shop handle that.”

Powering lifestyle change: Wake Gregg’s eBikeStore

The eBike Store on opening day-105
The eBike Store on opening day-108

Shop: The eBike Store.

Location: N Williams and Alberta, moving July 20 to N Albina and Rosa Parks.

Specialty: Battery-assisted bikes and installations or modifications of battery-assist units.

Owner’s estimate of the number of similar shops in the country: 65.

Proprietor: Wake Gregg, age 42.

Origin story: Gregg discovered e-bikes on 2008 a trip to China as part of his MBA program at George Fox University and realized it was an idea that deserved to be introduced to the United States. “Seeing all these electric bikes, it was like, ‘This makes all the sense in the world,’” Gregg said. “I came back and wrote a business plan.”

Biographical fact: Before moving to Portland, Gregg founded The Bikery in Walla Walla, a charity bike repair shop along the lines of Portland’s Community Cycling Center that focused on training people on parole.

Shop philosophy: “One of the core values of Portland and Portlanders is health. … E-bikes promote personal health, environmental health, financial health and geopolitical health.”

What’s new: On July 15, Gregg’s Alberta store will close and reopen one week later one mile to the northwest, inside a former chop-shop on North Albina Avenue. The new site will triple Gregg’s floorspace and offer off-street parking — important for a shop that specializes in helping non-bikers make easier transitions to low-car life.

Quote: “The narrative we hear in e-bikes is that this next year is the year of the e-bike. It never is. It never will be. What it’s about is people living their values. And that’s a much slower transition.”

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  • Mark July 1, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    It is fun to read the stories of these local entrepreneurs. I am looking forward to your profiles of the other 66.

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  • Red Hippie July 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Joel is a pretty amazing guy. Between the folks at Clever and him, they probably acount for a fair percentage of the cargo bike revolution in the US.

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  • Anne Hawley July 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I can spot an ebike coming over the horizon of my future, and it’s wonderful to know that The eBike Store is pretty much right in my neighborhood.

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  • BIKELEPTIC July 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I love Marilyn! Her story is so sweet and inspiring! In Elly Blue’s “Taking the Lane #3 Unsung Heroes” there’s an article about Marilyn by Monica Christofili called ‘Flying High’ that is pretty stellar. It’s pretty cool seeing her every May at the human powered vehicle races on her high racer as well! Made me want one! I would love to work for her and share the bike love!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Maria July 3, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    So wonderful to read about these bike shop owners. They are the real deal and certainly something that makes Portland so special. Thanks for telling me more about them.

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